How I Became a Socialist
The story of how Helen Keller (1880-1967), struck blind and deaf while a toddler, overcame her disabilities with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, is a familiar one. William Gibson’s drama, The Miracle Worker, made into a movie, popularized that part of her story. She is remembered for accomplishments such as graduating cum laude from Radcliffe College; as an internationally famous advocate for the deaf and blind; and as a celebrity, writing books, appearing in films and on the vaudeville stage. Her friend Mark Twain described her, along with Napoleon, as one of the “two most interesting characters of the nineteenth century.” What is usually forgotten, however, is that she was also a prominent, articulate, and passionate voice for socialism. From a condition of profound isolation she grew into an inspired communicator, fully engaged with the world around her. She joined the Socialist Party in 1909 (later she’d join the Industrial Workers of the World, too) and championed her socialist vision while lecturing and writing on the issues of her day-in support of worker’s struggles, the Russian Revolution, and women’s suffrage, and against the First World War. There was no separation in her mind between her struggle on behalf of the disabled and her struggle for socialism. She attributed the greater portion of the ills experienced by the disabled, and the cause of these disabilities in many cases, to capitalism and industrialism. After 1921, she focused her energies on raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind but she remained a supporter of radical causes for the rest of her life. This essay appeared in the New York Call, a daily newspaper of the Socialist Party, on November 3, 1912.